Barry’s! An annual tradition.
Archie loves a rollercoaster. I’m not convinced; this one wobbles….
This summer has been challenging. We ended the school year on a high, Archie received an end of year award and had a fabulous time at his school prom (squeal – not something I ever imagined happening).
Then disaster struck. A week before the summer holidays started Archie’s respite provision completely broke down. It had been somewhat fragile and fraught with anxiety for a while and quite a bit of me hoped that removing it from the equation would remove the anxiety from Archie leaving us free to have a pretty active but chilled summer. Having had such a brilliant summer last year I was pretty positive, and only seriously worried about how I was going to get through the huge pile of work I have.
That positivity lasted until about 11am on the first day when we had the first monumental anxiety fuelled meltdown. I did contact various professionals who work with Archie as during that first week he completely fell apart but it seems things stop in the summer and we need to wait until mid/end of September for meetings and thoughts about how to repair access to respite (to be fair this delay is partly my fault, as I want school involved in any meeting). We crawled through the first week – luckily Joe and Louis were able to clear off, get out of the way and do their own thing quite a bit with friends. Then, things did start to improve slowly. The anxiety has reduced, I’ve reined back (my) expectations; dog walks and picnics replacing more exciting activities such as horse riding, we visited a near empty, little known, Lydford Castle rather than tourist-filled Dartmouth Castle etc. We’re muddling along okay now.
In all this there have been good moments – even in the dark and difficult moments of severe autism it’s never all bad. I took Louis camping for a few days. I put the tent up myself and lit fires while Louis found new football playing friends. I then made the beginners mistake of saying out loud (well on a Facebook status) how relaxing camping with Louis was, to wake up that night to him throwing up – of course I did, he’s NEVER ill!! – My razor sharp bucket grabbing skills saved the tent. Louis and I still got to see Joe playing Gulliver in the YMT-UK Gulliver’s Travels skills course (great course btw – highly recommended) although it was touch and go for a while. Louis and I have been riding a bit, we’ve all had some funny trips to National Trust properties – Archie and National trust ladies often being an amusing combination, Archie and Louis had a great morning using the hot tubs and swim spas at Hotspring South West and we had a very successful annual meet up with holidaying college friends at the beach. Oh and we’ve eaten a lot of cake.
Toning down things has helped a lot. There’s been more hanging around at home than during previous holidays, this has been quite fun at times. The original version of this post had a video of Joe practicing a song for a YMT-UK cabaret evening, which started well and then descended into the usual chaos as Archie, Louis and the dog joined in. (Richard always says the younger two will have no problems working in an open plan office – they’re used to working/practicing/studying/sleeping amongst lots of background noise). Anyway I thought I ought to take it down – although I liked it because it showed a chilled, typical family with a hint of autism that was funny moment. And I like family sing songs. We have lots of those, even though Joseph’s the only one who can actually sing.
Music has featured heavily this summer, Archie’s been walking around with an iPod or iPad clamped to his ear most of the time he’s at home, often playing the same phrasing from a particular song over and over again. The song changes fairly frequently – usually just as I’m reaching the stage of never being able to hear it again. I may be ready to cope with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by the time we reach actual Christmas, but I’d had enough of it by 5pm last Thursday and luckily by the next day Archie had moved on. An iPod seems to help him control his anxieties when out and about as well, so we’ve introduced that as a strategy while his anxiety levels are screaming. As usual his musical taste is eclectic. The Stone Roses, Ride, Ben Howard, Cosmo Jarvis, various musical theatre shows, the previously mentioned christmas carols, Kyle Coleman and CBeebies theme tunes all taking a turn. The effect of music on Archie is something we’ve noticed since he was tiny. He was able to sing perfectly in tune as a toddler, as he lost the ability to speak he started to sing and he used to react physically to music, shaking all over for example when he heard powerful classical peices. I’ve recently come across this book and have bought it and added to the ‘to read’ pile. I can’t tell you anything more than that as my concentration is shot to pieces – I plan to read it in September and will report back.
And while we’re talking music may I take a break from planet-autism to recommend catching a listen to Noel Sullivan’s (aka ‘Noel from Hear’Say’) new album – Here I Go Again. It’s good; a mix of songs from shows he has been in and a couple of his own numbers and he’s signing and personally dedicating copies he’s selling at the moment. The CD has passed the Archie test; we arrived home while True Colours was playing and he wouldn’t let me turn the car off until the song had finished – so a vote of confidence from him. Coincidentally True Colours is a song I associate with Archie, after his teacher many years ago sent home a slideshow of class photos at the end of a school year set to True Colours. Try watching THAT – photos of 6 littlies with severe autism while listening to True Colours – the lyrics are enough – I bawled. Hear’Say passed me by a bit, (was more of an indie gal), so Noel has been a bit of a recent find for me – but he really does have the most amazing voice. If you get a chance to see him in the current Rock of Ages UK tour, do. Joe and I grabbed £10 tickets to see it in Torquay, and after a dreadful week when Archie’s respite provision was just starting to crumble, it was a very welcome interlude to all the hassle. It’s very funny, quite rude in places (if you’re thinking of taking kids), although not so rude that I had to cover Joe’s eyes (as I did during part of the Plymouth University Musical Theatre Society production of Jekyll and Hyde – my God!!!) and in one song, in one note Noel shows just how talented he is….. If you need proof about how incredible Noel’s voice is, have a watch of this and I challenge you not to go all shivery:
So we’re mid way though the happy holidays. I am looking forward to the normality and above all the calmness (for Archie) that September will bring. But, but, but… things are chilled enough here now to be able to climb down from the constant vigilance and management of the first couple of weeks – at least some of the time. We’ve yet to go surfing – mainly because it has been flat – we did have a chilled paddleboard around Burgh Island shortly before the holidays, but Archie doesn’t really do much in the way of flat these days. It has been a proper rollercoaster though. Some real lows, but also good moments – the photos focus on those. And please note a rainbow chose my tent to end at. That’s got to be good.
I was asked to write a guest post for Mumsnet yesterday. It was sort of about our time at a Horse Boy camp a number of years ago, and sort of about the positive effects of the great outdoors on Archie.
I am having a hellishly busy week this week, so haven’t had much time to put together a post – so for now I thought I’d add a few recent photos of Archie enjoying outdoors life, our favourite picnic spots etc. I’ll write more on being outdoors after we’ve done our first wild camping trip.
Many of those currently reading The Reason I Jump may not be aware that Naoki learned to type using a controversial method known as facilitated communication. In common with many of those with severe autism who type independently he needed a period of physical support. He describes the process by which he learned to write and point independently, and why he needed this support in this mini lecture. His is an increasingly common story, and as the word spreads and more people try this form of communication then we are likely to come across others saying the same thing.
The official (and negative) view of faciliated communication can be found here or on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. My own view is that we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and the people who now type independently and who have said they needed a period of physical support to get to that stage should not be ignored. They have worked hard to develop their voice and we should be listening to them. There is a balance to be found between providing necessary support and working towards independence. I do believe that working towards increasing independence is important because frankly, many discount a voice that is not fully independent.
I was reading The Reason I Jump at breakfast this morning and this passage jumped out at me: I think the reason why some kids with autism try to get hold of an object by ‘borrowing’ someone else’s hand is that they can’t tell how far they need to extend their own arms to reach the object. They’re not too sure how to actually grab the object either, because we have problems perceiving and gauging distances. This was particularly relevant this morning because an hour earlier this article about Watson Dollar finding a way to communicate in his twenties had popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It includes the following passage: Watson initially found it easier to grab his mom’s hand and guide her outstretched finger to type words rather than extend his own. He doesn’t do that much anymore but still prefers to clutch her hand while he types with his own finger. A heartwarming video of Watson can be seen here on the USA Today website together which clearly shows his method of clutching his mother’s hand.
In Archie’s case he finds typing difficult, he finds language difficult and he finds literacy difficult. A huge advantage of the Vantage Lite for us is that it’s easy for him to use and he can use it independently. I do automatically tend to demonstrate new words to him hand over hand (I still teach a lot of things hand over hand), but after one or two demonstrations he can access that word independently. This independent use means that he is believed, and with reference to my last post is able to demonstrate competence. As he becomes more able to communicate and as his expressive language develops I fully intend to introduce him to typing via the iPad as well. If he needs some physical support to get going I won’t hesitate to offer it. The photograph below shows some of Archie’s recent writing. Whilst he is not using writing to communicate he can now write his name without support, but it has taken many years of hand over hand practice for him to be able to produce this independently. It would perhaps be more surprising if support was not needed.
A couple of further links for those interested in Naoki Higashida after my last post.
(1) An article in today’s Guardian by David Mitchell: Learning to live with my son’s autism. Although, as always in these articles there are some areas where my view differs a little it’s a powerful piece of writing, with of course many shared moments. This is something fairly typical, when meeting parents of children with special needs you find that although you might be virtual strangers your lives have so many shared moments you’re practically family.
(2) A link to video about Naoki Higashida by the Facilitated Communication Institute of Syracuse University, I write so I am alive. (You need to scroll down, although they’re all worth watching). Thank you Lisa from Aut2Communicate for the link. On watching the video at first I thought that Naoki was very much more organised than Archie, for example he was catching a ball and appeared calm and pretty much in control of his actions. Then Naoki started running and jumping, and hitting and biting himself and he looked very much more like Archie. Something I have noticed very recently is that as Archie progresses with the talker, and routinely produces longer sentences he is also becoming a little more organised. He can copy out words now, and he will sit at the table and concentrate on his homework (once we’ve managed to drag him away form his iPad). For a while now I’ve felt that one of Archie’s greatest problems has been his lack of oganisation and his slavery to involuntary movement and actions. It’s hard to complete a thought if it is always interrupted by the need to run and jump. It will be interesting to see how his emerging calmness and ability to concentrate develops. I am hopeful that it will continue to improve and lead us to exciting new places.
I don’t listen to Radio 4 that often. Archie likes music in the car, and Radio 4 therefore isn’t really tolerated. Luckily my parents only listen to Radio 4 (unless Folk Night is on) and they have been enthusiastically relaying this week’s Book of the Week.
The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism is written by Naoki Higashida – a severely autistic boy living in Japan who has learned to communicate using a letterboard (a link to the roman version, rather than the hiragana, but same idea). Translated into English by the author David Mitchell and his wife K.A. Yoshida it promises to offer a fascinating insight into autism along the same lines as that provided by Lucy’s Story: Autism and Other Adventures. Excerpts have been read on Radio 4 this week- and if you are reading this around the end of June may still be available on iPlayer.
I’m very fond of Japan – I lived there for a year, and even taught in a special school that catered for children with autism and learning disabilities – so I tend to read a lot of (translated) Japanese literature. This book is going to be a particular treat (and I’ll probably cry when I read it). It’s on order.
Just a quick post today. I headed to the beach to meet a friend staying in Bigbury on holiday. After lunch Archie and I did the usual dog walk – easy today because the tide was out. We walked around the corner and along the river, where, Archie sat down. This doesn’t sound like much, but Archie never sits down at the beach. Usually we walk, surf, do whatever we came to do, eat, then leave. Sitting and admiring the view isn’t part of the plan. I was delighted, he looked very content sat watching the river running some sand through his fingers occasionally. I’m hoping now that it wasn’t a one off.